Beer can be as simple or as formal as you wish. Do you need a certain type of glass? No, but it helps. Does it have to be a certain temperature? No, but it helps. Should you drink beers in a certain order? No, but it helps.
Taking the extra step will just make a great beer even better. If you have Kagua Blanc on you, and all you have is a tumbler, you can still drink it. Or if you have a Scrimshaw Pilsner, but only have a chalice, don’t worry. You may miss out on a few flavors and aromas here and there, but you’re still going to experience much of what the beer has to offer.
But if you can take the extra step, you’ll open up yourself to an even bigger, and better, world of beers. The same beer, when poured into different glasses, will smell and taste different. If you drink a Rogue Dead Guy when it is chilled to 3 degrees Celsius, it will taste different than if it is at 15 degrees.
But one great thing about beer is it is an affordable luxury. Experiment with it. Try it with different foods. Given the wide range of flavors each person experiences on the palate, just because someone does something one way doesn’t mean you have to. Find out what you like best.
General serving recommendations
First and foremost, use clean glasses. Make sure it is well rinsed and contains no remnants of soap or bleach; that will kill the head on a beer.
For a general rule of thumb, you want snifters and goblets for big, high-alcohol beers, but taller, and usually thinner glasses for lower-alcohol beers. The American craft beer industry embraced shaker pint glasses 30 years ago not because it was the ideal glass, but because it was the cheapest and most utilitarian. If you only have two glasses, we recommend a snifter and a British pint glass.
Snifter/Goblet: Use these for big, powerful beers over 8 percent that are sipping, not session beers.
Pilsner glasses: Use these for said beers and lower-alcohol beers (below 5.5%) that are meant to be drunk cold and quickly.
Shaker glasses: Sure, they’re utilitarian, but that can be a good thing. They are great for stouts and pale ales, along with porters and ambers.
Different beers should be poured differently. The only way to find out is by experimenting. When in doubt, pour conservatively; you never want to be the person who pours a beer straight-in, then has half the bottle foam over because you weren’t paying attention. If you are rushed, pour the beer, angled, into the side of the glass, then straighten it up near the end. If you have time, pour a beer straight in, then let the head settle. Pour some straight in, let it settle again, and repeat a final time. With patience comes a beautiful head.
Not all beer should be served ice-cold. But are some better the colder they are? Sure. Here’s a general guideline, but experiment to see what you like best:
The lower the alcohol, the lower the temperature. A pilsner is usually better colder, but a Brother Thelonius needs to be warm (think 15-20 degrees Celsius) for all of the flavors to come out. Go by the rule of 5. For Pilsners, try them at 5 degrees at first; for Maibocks like Rogue Dead Guy Ale, try 10 degrees; for Belgian-style beers, try 15 degrees. Personal results and preferences may vary.
If a beer is complex, it usually needs to be warmer for all of the flavors to come out. If the beer is more straightforward, then it is usually better cold to concentrate its flavors.
Experiment! At first, you may like pale ales very cold as a way to cut the heat. But after a while, you may find the hops change their flavors as they warm up.
Food and beer pairing
Here is where the fun begins. Sure, some foods seem to naturally pair with certain beers, but you should feel free to experiment away.
You can try to pair similar flavors in food to their counterpart flavors in beer, like a chocolate stout with a chocolate cake. Alternately, look for contrasts, such as matching sourness in beer with the sweetness of pork. When in doubt, favor the sweeter beers over more bitter beers.
A few notes:
Hops play up the heat in food. If you love spice, try matching hoppy pale ales with Mexican dishes or other spicy foods.
Hops cut through strong flavors more easily than malt does.
Stouts and Belgian-style beers generally go great with desserts.
BBQ meats scream for amber ales and Rogue Dead Guy.
If you have a strongly flavored food, pair it with a big beer so it can hold up to it.
Cheese goes great with beer. Try a blue cheese against a strong stout; a goat cheese with a fresh wheat or light pale ale; and a strong cheddar with an amber ale.
In general, use lighter beers with lighter foods. Use strong beers with strong foods. If you’re unsure, an amber or a good pilsner can be your catch-all beer.
And, whatever you do, don't forget to share the results of your experiments on our Facebook page!